Sunday, 27 January 2013

The Beatitudes Beyond the Sermon on the Mount

      The Greek word makarios ("blessed") appears thirteen times in the Gospel according to Matthew, all employed in the teachings of Jesus. Nine of these are found in the opening words of the Sermon on the Mount, commonly known as "the Beatitudes" (5:3-11). The Latin beatus, from which this designation is derived, means "fortunate," "blissful," or "happy." However, "blessed" is probably the better rendering of the Greek term since it directs our focus upward and implicitly acknowledges God from whom these blessings proceed (cf. James 1:17). The word occurs four more times in Matthew’s Gospel beyond chapter 5, the subject of our current study.
      In chapter 11, as the imprisoned John the baptist was seeking words of reassurance, Jesus summarizes the results of his ministry (vv. 2-5) and affirms in v. 6, "And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me" (NKJV). To be a follower of Christ at this time was clearly not easy, and the difficulties would only intensify in the weeks, months, and years to come (cf. 10:16-25; John 15:20-21; 16:1-4, 33). Today being a Christian is still not without its challenges. The world in which we live is consumed with religious turmoil, injustice, unbelief, and sin. God’s people regularly find themselves in the unpopular minority and at times may feel intimidated, discouraged, and overwhelmed. But let us never forget that we are the ones who are truly blessed, ever mindful of the Lord’s exhortation: "And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me."
      In Matthew’s 13th chapter the word "blessed" is used again, this time as Jesus explains the reason he taught in parables. Comparing spiritual perception with the physical ability to see and hear, the Lord observes that many have the latter while lacking the former (vv. 10-15). He then says to his faithful followers, "But blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear" (v. 16). When people do not "see" and "hear" the truth, even when it is plainly communicated, it is essentially because their minds are closed and their hearts are hardened. Since the will of God is readily available and understandable to all who genuinely seek it (Matthew 7:7; John 7:17; Ephesians 5:17), may we be among those who are blessed because of eyes that see and ears that hear.
      In chapter 16 the Lord asks his disciples what others were saying about him, and various responses are given. When he then enquires about their own convictions, Simon Peter confidently declares: "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God" (v. 16). Jesus then pronounces a blessing and makes an intriguing observation: "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven" (v. 17). Exactly how the heavenly Father revealed this information to Peter is not disclosed, but to be on the receiving end of divine revelation is obviously a blessing. Today the will of God is conveyed through his written word (Ephesians 3:1-5; 2 Timothy 3:16-17). As we therefore read, study, and learn from the sacred scriptures, how blessed we are! Alternatively, if the revealed word is neglected and our Bibles collect dust and cobwebs as they remain unused for extended periods of time, let’s appreciate the converse reality of what we’re missing! Only when the Lord’s directives are wholeheartedly welcomed into our lives can it rightfully be said, "Blessed are you . . ."
      In view of the unexpectedness of Christ’s second coming, emphasis is given in chapter 24 to the importance of spiritual readiness (vv. 36-44). Accordingly, to be considered "a faithful and wise servant" (v. 45), there are delegated responsibilities that must be fulfilled. Thus Jesus observes, "Blessed is that servant whom his master, when he comes, will find so doing" (v. 46). The rest of the chapter describes the tragedy of unpreparedness, so there can be no excuse for being caught off guard and foolishly ignoring the certainty of divine judgment. To persevere in active, loyal, obedient service to the Lord is to enjoy heaven’s richest blessings.
      Blessed are the faithful, whose allegiance to Christ is without reservation. Blessed are the attentive, whose minds are set on things above. Blessed are the receptive, who eagerly embrace the word of God. And blessed are the prepared, who dutifully anticipate the Lord’s return.
–Kevin L. Moore

Sunday, 20 January 2013

The Meek Shall Inherit the Earth

Sermon on the Mount by Deborah Coombs
      From a mountain near Capernaum, the celebrated "Sermon on the Mount" was preached by our Lord Jesus, recorded in chapters 5–7 of Matthew’s Gospel. In the opening words blessings ("beatitudes") are pronounced on those exhibiting certain virtues, with the affirmation in 5:5, "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth" (NKJV).
      The term "blessed" is translated from the Greek makarios, signifying those who are "fortunate" and consequently "happy" due to having received a blessing. The blessed ones in this verse are the "meek" (praeis), namely those whose strength is under control and is exercised in a gentle, kind, benevolent manner. And in what way are they blessed? "For they shall inherit the earth."
      This statement has generated a great deal of confusion and debate over the centuries, especially when wrenched from its context and interpreted through the distorted lens of popular premillennial theories. But by removing our 21st-century spectacles and viewing the words of Jesus from the perspective of his original audience, the message becomes much clearer.
      The blessings of verses 4-9 are bracketed between the repeated blessing of verses 3 and 10: "For theirs is the kingdom of heaven." Matthew alone employs the expression "the kingdom of heaven," which is synonymous with "the kingdom of God" (cf. 19:23-24), underscoring the heavenly or spiritual nature of God’s kingdom. This spiritual kingdom, equated with the church that Jesus promised to build (16:18-19), was to be realized within the lifetimes of the Lord’s immediate disciples (3:2; 4:17; 16:28; cf. Mark 1:15; 9:1). Not long after these affirmations were made, the church of Christ was established (Acts 2:37-47) and its members are recognized as citizens of the heavenly kingdom (Colossians 1:13; 4:11; Ephesians 2:19; Philippians 3:20; etc.).
      The promised blessings of Matthew 5:3-10, rather than being withheld from God’s people for millennia into the future, are most certainly available to citizens of the Lord’s kingdom in the here and now. They shall be comforted (2 Corinthians 1:3-4), they shall be filled with righteousness (Romans 1:17; 5:17), they shall obtain mercy (Romans 11:30-31), they shall see (comprehend) God with purity of heart (John 1:18; 14:7-9), and they shall be called sons of God (Galatians 3:26). To then interpret the promise of Matthew 5:5 as something that is unavailable until the distant future in a yet-to-be-established earthly kingdom is to miss the point!
      Note how the Lord goes on to describe the future dwelling place of his faithful ones: "for great is your reward in heaven . . ." (v. 12, emp. added), i.e. the spiritual realm where the heavenly Father resides (vv. 16, 34). Note also the contrast Jesus makes further into the discourse: "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (6:19-21, emp. added).
      What, then, is meant by the statement, "For they shall inherit the earth"? Throughout the sermon familiar sentiments are echoed from the Hebrew scriptures which the Jewish listeners could relate to and readily understand. The audience to whom Jesus was speaking would have recognized the words of Matthew 5:5 as a quotation of Psalm 37:11a. If we want to hear the message as they heard it, we need to appreciate the significance of this familiar passage.
      Traditionally the 37th Psalm is attributed to David and generally understood as a prophetic exhortation for the Jewish captives in Babylon. The Hebrew term arets occurs throughout the text, although it is not consistently translated in many of our English versions. Sometimes it is rendered "land" and sometimes it is rendered "earth." But by recognizing the fact that it was their homeland from which these exiles were separated, it is apparent that it was "the land" in which they longed to dwell (vv. 3, 29b) and "the land" to which they would return (vv. 9, 11, 22, 29a, 34). From this perspective, to "inherit the land" is synonymous with God’s favor, protection, blessings, and providential care (vv. 3-9, 11, 16-18, 22-29, 33-34, 37-40).
      As a brief side note, the Hebrew word ‘olam, translated "forever" in many English versions (vv. 18, 29), is a simple term of duration that describes something which lasts as long as it is intended to last (cf. Genesis 17:7-19; Exodus 21:6; 28:43; 29:9; 31:16-17). Remember that the land promise was conditioned upon the Israelites remaining faithful to God, and without living up to their end of the agreement there was no guarantee that it would remain in their possession (Deuteronomy 28:15, 63; Joshua 23:11-16; 1 Kings 9:6-7).
      Now back to Matthew 5. The Jewish audience to whom Jesus was speaking already inhabited the land, albeit under Roman occupation. Many of their contemporaries (e.g. the Zealots) were attempting to reclaim their sovereignty with aggression and brute force. But Jesus called for a different approach. "Blessed are the meek," i.e. those who refrain from hostility and violence. "For they shall inherit the earth [ge = land]." The meek, while inhabiting the land or dwelling upon the earth, are the ones who truly enjoy divine favor, protection, blessings, and providential care (cf. 6:9-13, 25-34).
      The Lord develops this idea further in a later discourse: "Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My sake and the gospel’s, who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time–houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions–and in the age to come, eternal life" (Mark 10:29-30, emp. added; cf. Matthew 5:5, 12; 19:29).
      Surely we can appreciate why the meek are so blessed!
--Kevin L. Moore

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Sunday, 13 January 2013

Authorship of Ephesians

     Questions about the composition of Ephesians were raised as far back as Erasmus, Theodore of Mopsuestia, and Jerome, not necessarily doubting Pauline authorship but noting unusual features of the epistle. More substantial attacks came from E. Evanson in 1792 and W. M. L. de Wette in 1826, followed by F. D. E. Schleiermacher, F. C. Baur and the Tübingen school. Ephesians is currently counted among the "disputed" Pauline letters by up to 70-80% of critical scholars (cf. Raymond Brown, An Introduction to the NT 620, 629).1
     Those who reject Paul’s authorship have pointed out that the letter differs from the undisputed Paulines in at least the following ways. (1) The vocabulary of Ephesians contains over ninety words not found elsewhere in Paul’s extant writings. (2) The literary style of Ephesians is more formal (with long, elaborate sentences) than the undisputed letters (with a more direct, conversational style). (3) Ephesians appears to have borrowed wording from Colossians, with seventy-five of the 155 verses in Ephesians paralleled in Colossians. (4) The theology of Ephesians lacks emphasis on typical Pauline doctrines (e.g. justification by faith) and is at variance with the theology espoused in the genuine Paulines. For example, (a) in Ephesians the church is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets (2:20), whereas elsewhere Paul unequivocally affirms that the only foundation is Christ (1 Corinthians 3:11). (b) In Ephesians there is reconciliation of Jews and Gentiles (2:11-18), but in Paul’s undisputed writings the Jew-Gentile conflict is an unresolved issue (Romans 2–4, 9–11, 14–15; Galatians 2–4). (c) Ephesians anticipates a long period of development for the church (3:21), in contrast to the expected immediacy of Christ’s return in the genuine Paulines (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Philippians 4:5).
     Are these objections as decisive as anti-conservative critics would have us believe? Consider the following responses. (1) The distinctive thrust of Ephesians necessarily calls for specific terminology. While word usage is an extremely subjective gauge for evaluating an author’s writing style, surely Paul’s vocabulary was broader than what is contained in a selective handful of his letters (see Biblical Authorship Part 3). Seeing that Ephesians is the only Pauline epistle wherein the terms politeia ("citizenship," 2:12) and hudōr ("water," 5:26) are employed, is it reasonable to conclude that these basic words were not in the apostle’s vocabulary and that he did not and could not have ever used them?!2 The other side of the proverbial coin is having to explain why there are so many more words in Ephesians that are shared with the undisputed Paulines but no other New Testament writings (see F. B. Clogg, Introduction to the NT 96). In fact, liberal critics like G. Johnston ("Ephesians," in IDB 2:110-11) curiously maintain that Ephesians exhibits signs of forgery because it contains too many parallels to the authentic Pauline letters!
     (2) A hypothetical "Pauline literary style" fails to appreciate the varied contributions of Paul and his coworkers (see Biblical Authorship Part 4), not to mention the different purposes and themes that would naturally affect the writing style from one document to the next. The less-than-personal nature of this letter (see Ephesians: Why So Impersonal?) is a significant factor that would obviously affect its manner of presentation. A. Roon argues that at least some of the differences between Ephesians and the other Pauline letters may be due to the fact that Ephesians was written by Paul alone, whereas the rest were written with secretarial assistance (Authenticity of Ephesians 85-87). Obviously the manual writing of a letter is quite different than verbally dictating a letter. Alternatively, G. L. Borchert suggests that Paul’s amanuensis (perhaps Luke) may have had more liberty in drafting the form and content of Ephesians, as the letter betrays Lukan patterns of writing (Galatians 248, 257). Even W. G. Kümmel, who rejects Pauline authorship, acknowledges that the amanuensis hypothesis could explain the unique style and language of Ephesians (Introduction to the NT 252).
     (3) The relationship between Ephesians and Colossians (and other Paulines) argues for common authorship. It has been estimated that between one third and one half of the verses in Ephesians are parallel to Colossians in both order and content, one fourth of the words in Ephesians are in Colossians, and one third of the words in Colossians are in Ephesians (R. E. Brown, An Introduction to the NT 627-28). Similar parallels are also recognized between Ephesians and the other Pauline letters (see G. Johnson, "Ephesians," in IDB 2:110-11).
     (4) It is not realistic to expect Paul to have addressed the exact same themes in exactly the same way in all of his letters, irrespective of audience, circumstances, and occasion. This is particularly relevant to Ephesians, seeing that for three years Paul did not refrain from declaring to these brethren the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:20, 27). Further, when the apostle’s teachings are read in context and one recognizes that similar metaphors are sometimes used to emphasize different points for different purposes (e.g. 1 Corinthians 3:6-9; 15:36-37; Galatians 6:7-9), the theology of Ephesians is easily harmonized with that of the other Paulines.
     (a) In Ephesians the church is said to be built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets (2:20) because of the important contributions these godly men made through their inspired teachings (3:1-5). At the same time, Jesus Christ is still acknowledged as the preeminent foundation stone (2:20b), consistent with the comparable imagery of 1 Corinthians 3:5-11. (b) In Ephesians 2:11-22 the reconciliation of Jews and Gentiles is stated according to God’s purpose rather than assuming a lack of any Jew-Gentile tensions. (c) That the Lord is to be glorified in the church "unto all generations" (Ephesians 3:21) is actually a prayer for eternity. And Paul never expressed certainty as to the timing of Christ’s return, whether it was to be during the apostle’s lifetime (1 Thessalonians 4:15) or after his death (1 Corinthians 6:14; 2 Corinthians 4:14). The reference to the nearness of the Lord in Philippians 4:15 is thus better understood as an affirmation of spatial proximity rather than time.
     None of the objections against Pauline authorship is convincing enough to override the weighty evidence to the contrary. The author claims that he is "Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ" (1:1), with the added self-description, "I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus" (3:1).3 The author asserts apostolic authority (1:1; 3:1-9; 4:1, 17) and exhibits an obvious familiarity with his audience (1:15-17; 3:2, 13-19; 4:17-20; 6:21-22). He even makes a personal prayer request: "for me, that speech may be given to me in opening my mouth in boldness to make known the mystery of the gospel" (6:18-19). For whom were these readers being asked to pray, and how would they have understood and responded to this request? Notice further that Tychicus was to personally communicate to these brethren specific news about this author who professed to be the apostle Paul (6:21).
     The outright dismissal of the self-claims of the text (1:1; 3:1; cf. 6:18-21) unnecessarily impugns the moral integrity of the writer. Why would he purposefully deceive his readers by alleging to be someone he is not despite the repeated emphasis on speaking truth (4:15, 25; 6:14)? This would also raise serious doubts, without solid justification, about matters of canonicity and divine inspiration (cf. 3:1-7; 6:14-17). Would the first recipients (who supposedly knew the author) have been duped? For whom would they have prayed (6:18-19)? About whom would Tychicus (a party to the deception?) have brought news (6:21)?
     Another significant factor is the vast manuscript evidence. Of the 779 extant copies of the Pauline writings,4 the authorship of Ephesians is ascribed to no one other than the apostle Paul. There is also the unanimous testimony of the early church (and even heretics like Marcion!), who were in a much better position than any modern critic (historically and geographically) to receive and transmit authentic information. By the mid-second century Ephesians was widely circulated and Pauline authorship undisputed.5
     Either Paul is the inspired author of Ephesians or he is not. It is the height of inconsistency to maintain the letter’s divine inspiration or at least its moral value, on one hand, while rejecting Pauline authorship, on the other. Is it realistic to argue that the contents of Ephesians are credible and true except for 1:1 and 3:1? If the authorial claims of 1:1 and 3:1 are false and misleading, how can the rest of the document be trusted? Unless one’s agenda is to undermine the integrity of the biblical record, it is hard to understand how so many significant variables can be ignored and how one can confidently maintain that Ephesians belongs in the suspect category of "disputed" writings.
--Kevin L. Moore
         1 Note, however, that H. W. Hoehner has shown this figure to be exaggerated (Ephesians 2-20).
      2 Furthermore, if Ephesians 1:3-14 and 5:14 are potential samples of pre-formed materials that have been adopted from other sources and incorporated into this epistle, as a number of modern scholars contend, is it then legitimate to include these words in the embellished charge of the author’s use of non-Pauline vocabulary?
      3 All scripture quotations in English are the author’s own translation.
      4 See Kurt and Barbara Aland, The Text of the NT (2nd ed.) 91; also David Trobisch, Paul’s Letter Collection (1994).
      5 The Marcionite canon (ca. 140), the Muratorian canon (ca. 180), early Latin and Syriac versions; cf. also Clement of Rome, Ignatius, Polycarp, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, and Hermas. Even critics like W. G. Kümmel concede: "Without question Ephesians was extraordinarily well attested in the early church" (Introduction to the NT 251).

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Sunday, 6 January 2013

Ephesians: Why So Impersonal?

     Following his inaugural visit to Ephesus, Paul spent up to three years evangelizing in this city and developing close emotional ties with the Christians there (Acts 20:31-38).1 One would expect, therefore, that any correspondence he sent to this church would be just as warm and familiar as letters written to other congregations with whom he spent considerably less time.2 However, Ephesians gives the appearance of one of the least personal letters in the collection of Paul’s writings, second only to Colossians. These two documents are the only Pauline epistles in which second person ("you") terminology significantly overshadows that in the first person ("I/we"),3 with Ephesians employing 28% more second person terms than first person (154/88), and Colossians 46% more (151/55). Consequently, these two letters seem to be far less personal than the other Paulines.
     While an unusual feature like this is understandable for Colossians, seeing that Paul had no direct affiliation with these saints prior to the time of writing (cf. 1:4; 2:1), this is surely not the case with the Ephesian church. Accordingly, the somewhat general, non-personal nature of Ephesians has led a number of New Testament scholars to suspect that it was intended as a circular letter for multiple churches rather than for any one particular congregation.4 This suspicion is bolstered by the fact that the three oldest extant manuscripts, viz. P46, Sinaiticus, and Vaticanus, omit the phrase en Ephesō ("in Ephesus") at 1:1.
     Most proponents of this encyclical theory, however, tend to ignore the fact that all manuscripts containing the epistle (including the three just mentioned) have the title, "To the Ephesians." In fact, no location besides Ephesus is recorded in any surviving text. The participial expression tois ousin ("the ones being . . .") always has an appended place name in the openings of Paul’s other congregational letters, and since the document is clearly written in letter form, the naming of a recipient in the opening address is necessary. The weight of evidence strongly supports the conclusion that in 1:1 the words "in Ephesus" are original (see also Missing Letters of Paul).5 It is also significant that a similar phenomenon occurs in Romans, wherein some manuscripts omit the words "in Rome" at 1:7 and 1:15, which, if not accidental, may have been an intentional scribal excision to give the epistle broader applicability (cf. B. M. Metzger, Textual Commentary [2nd ed.] 446-47, 532).
     If Ephesians is in fact a genuine Pauline letter addressed to the actual church he founded in the city of Ephesus, how do we account for its uncharacteristic/ impersonal language and style? Comparative analysis indicates that the message of Ephesians is a further development of the material in Colossians, composed with broader purposes to a different audience.6 Thus Ephesians appears to be more of a theological treatise than a personal letter, although some personal touches are included (cf. 1:1, 15-17; 3:2, 13-19; 4:17-21; 6:18-24). But what logical reason could there have been for this deviation from the apostle’s normal practice?
     At the time of composition Paul may have already been planning to write 1 Timothy, which was penned shortly thereafter and sent to Ephesus as well (cf. 1 Timothy 1:3). When he had last visited with the leaders of the Ephesus church, he warned that "from you yourselves [ex humōn autōn] men will rise up speaking perverted things, to drag away the disciples after themselves" (Acts 20:30, author's own translation). Surely it is no mere coincidence that the primary focus of 1 Timothy is for certain ones to be charged "not to teach different doctrines" (1:3; cf. vv. 4-7, 18-20; 4:1-16; 6:3-10, 17-21).
     It is of further interest that in Paul’s letter to the Philippians, written around the same time as Ephesians, reference is made to the "overseers and deacons" (1:1). In contrast, there is no mention in the Ephesian letter of any overseers or deacons, even though at one time the Ephesus church did have overseers (Acts 20:17, 28). Paul even deems it necessary to include in 1 Timothy qualifications for overseers and deacons (3:1-13), with instructions to honor worthy elders and to publicly rebuke unworthy ones without partiality (5:17-21).
     Despite the unique literary features of Ephesians, it is not necessary to jump on the scholarly bandwagon and dismiss Paul’s authorship and/or Ephesus as the letter’s intended destination. On the contrary, taking the epistle at face value and accepting it just as it has been preserved through the centuries has solid justification. This is especially true when consideration is given to the prospect that Ephesians was intended to lay the theological groundwork for 1 Timothy, plus the frustrating leadership problems at Ephesus that naturally would have prompted the document’s less-than-personal tone.
–Kevin L. Moore
       1 It is commonly believed that Paul was in Ephesus for only two years and three months (Acts 19:8-10) and that his reference to "three years" (Acts 20:31) is to be understood as a mere generalization. However, after Luke records Paul’s teaching for three months in the synagogue and for two years in Tyranus’ school, he mentions in Acts 19:22 that the apostle "stayed in Asia for a time," employing the term chronos, meaning "a period of time . . . a long time . . . considerable time" (BAGD 887; cf. BDAG 1092). This extended period could very well have been the nine months or so that would have completed the entire three-year period.
      2 Cf. 1 Corinthians 1:4; 2 Corinthians 1:15; Philippians 1:3-8; 1 Thessalonians 1:2; 2 Thessalonians 1:3-4.
      3 While 1 and 2 Thessalonians and 1 Timothy have more second person words than first person, the difference is only slight (154/129, 61/50, and 66/49 respectively).
      4 The proposal of E. J. Goodspeed (The Meaning of Ephesians) and J. Knox (Philemon Among the Letters of Paul) is that Ephesians served as an introduction letter to the entire Pauline corpus.
      5 See also Hans Conzelmann, Interpreting 204-205; and C. E. Arnold, "Ephesians," in DPL 243-45.
      6 There are a number of common themes, with overlapping vocabulary, shared by the two epistles (see D. A. Carson and D. J. Moo, Introduction to the NT 481, 485, 520-21). That Ephesians was written after Colossians is suggested by the fact that Timothy is named as co-sender in all of Paul’s so-called "prison epistles" except Ephesians, which could indicate that Ephesians was penned after Timothy had been sent away to Philippi (Philippians 2:19-23).

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